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BarabbasBarabbas on DVD

Biblical Epic

Anthony Quinn plays the man whose life was spared when Jesus went to the cross.

Barabbas was a criminal and a thug, in prison deservedly. But when Roman governor Pontius Pilate was charged with deciding the fate of Jesus, and in accordance with the Jewish tradition that one condemned man be freed, he gave the mob a choice between setting free the holy man or someone else.

Barabbas was the someone else, and this movie follows him from his release through a voyage of self discovery.

Barabbas is in the epic tradition of such classics as Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, though it isn't nearly as epic as those "cast of thousands" productions. It's more of a character study set against an epic background.

Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by Richard Fleischer, "Barabbas" gave Anthony Quinn perhaps his best starring role.

After his release, Barabbas has no real idea who it was who went to the cross in his place; he's just glad it wasn't him. He goes back to his old ways ways, briefly visiting his old haunts and trying to resume his relationships with his old friends, including his former lover Rachel.

But you can never go home again at the best of times - and times here are certainly changing. And Rachel has changed as well. She believes in Jesus Christ and what he stood for, leading Barabbas to write her off as crazy. She ends up being stoned to death for claiming that Jesus is raised from the dead.

Barabbas finds his old gang, who think he has gone soft - but he hasn't and after a quick fight for leadership of the gang he's accepted as top dog once again.

Later, after they brutally attack a caravan, Barabbas pursues one of the priests who presided over Rachel's stoning, but is captured by Roman guards on patrol. They bring him back to Pontius Pilate (well played by Arthur Kennedy), who sentences him to the Sicilian sulphur mines.

Surprised that he wasn't merely put to death, Barabbas remembers the execution of Jesus and begins to wonder about his purpose in life.

The movie then follows Barabbas through the hell of the dark and dirty mines. He learns more about Christianity from a fellow prisoner (Vittorio Gassman), and when the mine caves his life is saved yet again and, shades of Spartacus and Gladiator, he's sent to gladiator school.

But the memory of Jesus haunts him, though he doesn't know what to do about it. Eventually, he discovers that his skill at stabbing serves him very well in the arena.

Jack Palance plays Barabbas chief antagonist, and he's appropriately nasty. By movie's end Barabbas finally figures out his purpose in life, though you can bet we aren't going to spoil it for you here! I'll leave you with that so you can see for yourself when you watch Barabbas.

Quinn is great as Barabbas, a man more skilled with his fists and blade than his tongue, and the supporting cast (which also includes Ernest Borgnine and Harry Andrews) is also very good.

The movie sends a positive Christian message, which wasn't unusual when it was made but which is very unusual today.

The DVD is okay. The box claims it's remastered in high definition and if this is the case they needn't have bothered. Oh, the digitally mastered anamorphic widescreen video quality is very good, but it looks kind of washed out and not nearly as good as many other DVD's these days. We don't mean it's bad; it isn't - it just isn't up to DVD standards.

The audio, which is "English 4.0 (Discrete surround) is good. Naturally, it can't hold a candle to today's digital recordings, but on the whole it's fine considering the age of this film.

Extras are limited to the theatrical trailer.

Barabbas, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
137 minutes, widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital 4.0 channel Surround
Starring Anthony Quinn, Silvana Mangano, Arthur Kennedy, Katy Jurado, Harry Andrews, Jack Palance, Ernest Borgnine
Produced by Dino de Laurentiis
Written by Christopher Fry, Directed by Richard Fleischer


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Updated May 13, 2006